Anyway, as we were leaving the museum, we began to pass little groups of young people wandering around with curious electronic gear or sitting huddled over it. My guess was that they were all engaged in some scientific work--tracking patterns of bird flight, perhaps, or plotting geological formations. But no. Too curious, at last, to pass up on this phenomenon, we stopped by a group to ask what they were do doing.
I would never have guessed the answer: they were painting. This was a class from the nearby Art Center College of Design, and they were out there on an assignment doing plein air painting, scribbling away with electronic "brushes," selecting thickness, color and so on from their "palette" menus as they watched the images develop on computer screens. We checked out the progress of a couple of them and, indeed, they were plain air landscape paintings not unlike the ones made by those early California impressionists we like so much. When the final images get printed out, all they lack is the actual texture of the oil paint. But, we were assured, "they're working on that."
Amazing. In my days as Dean at Otis Art Institute, back in the 1970s, computer graphics were barely heard of outside huge business ventures. There was not a single computer, for any purpose, on our college campus. And now they carry their laptops around with them to make not simply graphic images but paintings! Who would have thought it, back in those days? By the time I was Dean of the arts at Loyola Marymount in the early to mid-1980s, the personal computer was still a rarity, used mostly for word-processing and record-keeping. I had to do great battle with the administration to even get one for the Dean's office. For students? An absurd notion!
And now where would any student be without a laptop and a cell phone? It's astonishing how far we have traveled these past couple of decades. But plein air painting? I'll confess, I'm still up for a surprise...
Art has for centuries been the work of human hands, and there's some (redundant?) part of my aesthetic judgment that is skeptical of art made by machines. I'm intrigued by all expressions of human creativity, but I do love to be overwhelmed by sheers skill, dexterity, virtuosity...
So at this other end of the scale... We had dinner a couple of nights ago with old friends, a couple who are ardent collectors of, among other things, tribal art--chiefly carved figures from African and Indonesia. Their home is literally chock-a-block with these often exquisitely created objects, hundreds of them lining every shelf and occupying every table top throughout the house. It's a good thing that the word "primitive" has been long discarded from our vocabulary of aesthetics. These figures are made not only with unquestionable skill and sensibility, but within well-established cultural traditions. Unlike our Western art, they are made not for their own sake, but for their power to embody vital social and spiritual values. One room in our friends' house is devoted exclusively to Yoruba "Ibeji" figures, which celebrate the special status of twins in tribal life, either together or as individual survivors--a deeply moving display of this peculiar and powerful human bond.
|(This image was found through an Internet search, and does not represent our friends' collection)|